Every year there are more than a couple of hackfests happening here in different cities, with different goals, themes, and sponsored by private, non-profit, public companies. They are targeting different segments of our society, from kids, students, college students to software developers. Some of them are free, open to everyone, and some of them are open to only cool kids and you may need to pay to spend your weekend with them.

This year I attended Summer of Tech as a mentor and worked with 4 university developers to use various APIs and build a data visualization product. We, as mentors, were not able to code, or influence the implementation heavily. The followings are what I personally learned:

Stack is Important

Software stack is important. Try to influence the team not to use technologies that are not suitable for rapid application development. My team chose to use Java as backend service. First mistake was they had almost zero experience using Java EE. It took few hours to get the correct version of Eclipse, configure Tomcat, etc. Based on my calculations, we could have saved one day (out of total of two days) if they had chosen nodejs instead. The same is for front-end development, use images instead of complicated 3D views generated from third-party tools, and use bootstap and mainstream Javascript frameworks.


Everyone is talking about MVP more than anything else in hackfests but we tend to forget it very fast. priority is to prepare something for the demo first.

Presentation is Important

Remind and give them tips about how to present their ideas, the way you think is the right way. People like what they see, and it happens that a good application gets less attention than a good background.

Learning vs. Winning

Let them decide what they want to achieve. Winning or Learning. I feel teaching them the concept of oAuth, SOA, three layer architecture, and even simple things such as what is JSON is more important than winning a two days hackfest. Needless to say some just want to win and that’s fair as well.


Remind them that judges normally ask intriguing questions. Remind them not to get defensive and reply calmly what they think is correct and politely pass if you have no idea.

Send feedback

After the hackfest, curate an email and send them your observations. The mistakes they have made, the good work they have done, and what to learn in the next one year to be prepared for a real career. Stick to the 3-1 rule. 3 positive, 1 negative feedback.